Sympathy for Karna

I’d like to comment on the article “Karna’s Options,” by Chaitanya Charana Dasa, in the January/February issue. According to Krishna Dharma’s and Ganguli’s versions of the Mahabharata, Karna was put into a very tragic situation. He was born the son of the sun-god and Queen Kunti. At birth he was abandoned by Kunti and was adopted by a chariot-driver and his wife. Karna was identified as the son of a charioteer, and as a result he was denied the training his kshatriya nature led him to desire. Two verses in Bhagavad-gita show how all of us not only follow our nature but should strive to do so to avoid dangerous situations in the future:

“Even a man of knowledge acts according to his own nature, for everyone follows the nature he has acquired from the three modes. What can repression accomplish?” (3.33)

“It is far better to discharge one’s prescribed duties, even though faultily, than another’s duties perfectly. Destruction in the course of performing one’s own duty is better than engaging in another’s duties, for to follow another’s path is dangerous.” (3.35)

When Karna appeared at the martial exhibition to show his prowess, he was shunned. Duryodhana stood up for him and made him the king of Anga, a position his nature needed in order to feel complete. Karna vowed his loyalty to Duryodhana, and for thirteen years he ruled Anga. His adoptive parents loved him when he was an abandoned child. His wives, whom they chose for him, his sons, daughters, and friends, all became part of his kingdom.

It wasn’t until Kunti approached him right before the battle that Karna realized his true identity. He was very confused. He felt it unrighteous to abandon all the people who loved and respected him. He knew that Duryodhana would not win the battle, and he had great respect for Yudhishthira. He hurled insults at the Pandavas only to please Duryodhana.

When Krishna approached Karna, Karna lamented that he wasn’t able to do what Krishna wanted. He knew the battle would happen and the outcome would be the same regardless of which side he took. At the end of the conversation with Krishna, Krishna embraced Karna. Karna’s mind felt heavy, and it seemed to him he was not destined to enjoy happiness and prosperity in this life.

“Karna’s Options” condemns Karna for the motives behind his actions and for “rejecting God for the world.” I can accept that he was not acting on the platform of pure devotional service, but he was a great soul put into a very confusing situation. I empathized with Karna because sometimes even as devotees we want to do what is right but lack the inner strength to do it. Karna’s decision before the battle of Kurukshetra exemplifies this dilemma. Krishna asked him not to fight for Duryodhana, but Karna, although he knew Krishna was his well-wisher, lacked the inner strength to rise above his circumstances.
Krishna Bhava Dasi
Via the Internet

Chaitanya Charana Dasa replies : Thank you for your important comment. I fully agree that Karna had a difficult life and had to make an extremely hard choice towards the end. The article was drawn from a book of mine. In the book’s introduction I mention that Karna was the character in the Mahabharata with whom I empathized the most, and I explain why, based on some incidents from my life. This empathic tone may have been lost in the Q&A format of the article.

Still, beyond confusion about duty or obligation to those who had respected him, Karna’s wrong actions went to misdirection of head, if not heart.

1. His suggesting that Draupadi be disrobed and his calling her a prostitute were unwarranted, unnecessary, and unconscionable.

2. His coming over to the Pandavas’ side would have required him to abandon only the nefarious Kauravas, not his family or the parents who had cared for him or his wives and children.

3. His choosing to join the unfair and brutal scheme to kill Abhimanyu was shockingly anti-heroic.

Karna was certainly not an unquestionably virtuous hero repeatedly wronged by Krishna and the Pandavas, as some populist retellings of the Mahabharata depict. My article aimed primarily to counter such misrepresentations – it didn’t aim to cast Karna as a villain. But his grievous actions poignantly illustrate a timeless truth: attachment to bad association can make even a good person act badly.

God in Illusion?

What do you say to someone who says, “I am God. You feel separate from God until you become self-realized. When you become self-realized, you realize that you are God”?

This person says that God has created the sense of separation and God will remove it when you become self-realized.
Julian Flores
Via the Internet

Our reply : To say “I am God but now I’m in illusion” is nonsense. God can never be in illusion. Illusion is a creation of God, which means that illusion is subordinate to Him. A magician can’t be fooled by his own tricks.

To say that a part of God is deluded is similarly unreasonable. God is one. There’s no question of separating a part of Himself and placing that part under illusion. Even if it were possible, why would God do that? Besides, this person’s contention is that the part is actually God too – the part is the same as the whole. What kind of logic is that? But even if we grant that idea, then if the part is in illusion, the whole must be too.

These ideas are just word jugglery. They don’t correspond to reality. God doesn’t forget that He is God. A “God with amnesia” fails the God test, being subject to countless limitations and miseries. The so-called God may say that he will overcome these when he becomes self-realized, but obviously God doesn’t need to become self-realized. He’s eternally aware of His supreme position.

Krishna teaches that He is God and we souls suffering in the material world are one with Him but also have our individual identities. It is like the relationship of the sun and the sun’s rays. In a sense they are the same thing, but they are also different. We can be in illusion because we are infinitesimal, but the infinite God can never be covered by illusion.

The spiritual teachers in our line have written extensively on these points. The debate between the proponents of “We’re all God” and the devotees, who say “We’re servants of God” has been going on for a long time. Lord Chaitanya’s follower Jiva Goswami, especially, systematically refuted all of the arguments of the impersonalists of his time, who were much more worthy opponents than their modern-day descendants.